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Five Takeaways From The Man Leading Tampa's RNC Planning

Aug 22, 2012

Ken Jones is a Tampa native and attorney for a local financial firm.

He's also tasked with leading the group that's hosting the biggest event to hit Tampa since the Super Bowl in 2009.

This is the fifth convention Jones has worked on.

He sat down with WUSF for Florida Matters. Here's five things we learned from the interview.

You can listen to the broadcast version here.

1. The Republican National Convention is a transformative event for Tampa.

Jones believes the RNC will be the moment the world realizes Tampa has grown up. He expects the city's convention, tourism and economy will see a permanent boost.

He's calling it the "economy convention," and hopes it could mean more future conventions, NCAA final or other major events.

"I want people to know that Tampa has arrived," Jones said. "People will look back 15 years from now and I think they'll be able to point to this exact moment -- this week -- this is the time when Tampa really turned the page. They took that step from a city that was at a level maybe '6' or a '7 and we took it up to a 9 or a 10. This is going to put us on the world stage. We're going to take advantage of it. People will never look at Tampa the same again."

2. There's a lot of money at stake for Tampa, now and in the future.

Here's Jones' breakdown of convention spending: $60 million in privately raised money from the host committee; $50 million from the Department of Homeland Security; $20 million from the Federal Election Commission; and $50 million from hotel room nights, taxis, airport landing fees.

"You're looking at $180 million in direct spending, just for the week of the convention," Jones said. "It's a phenomenal amount of money."

But Jones said he learned from past conventions that you just can't expect that money will find it's way to Tampa Bay businesses.

"The forefront of my mind everyday is 'How do I make sure a local Tampa Bay business can benefit?'" he said. "How do I get business for that local caterer on West Gandy Boulevard?  How do I make sure a local bus company or limousine company gets to use their service... If you just show up and think the money will go to the local community, it will never happen. You have to be deliberate and you have to make a concerted effort to make that happen."

3. The biggest challenge is making the trains run on time.

Finding hotels for convention delegates and more than 15,000 media is the biggest challenge. Then, Jones said, you have to find a way to get them around Tampa and to the convention itself.

Jones said the planning is more complicated than other large events because the major decisions about security are out of the host committee's hands. When the Secret Service makes a decision, Jones said, they have to adjust their plans.

"That's the different element about this event versus everything else," Jones said. "The security for this event, much different than an Olympic games, much different than a Super Bowl. More akin to a presidential inauguration...You don't get a mulligan on this one. You only get one chance to get it right.

"We don't get to make security decisions. And thank goodness for that. That's somebody else's responsibility."

4. Laid-back Tampa is going with the flow -- so far.

Though plenty of people in Tampa are already tired of hearing about the convention, Jones said the host committee hasn't gotten many complaints about closed streets, chain link fences and Event Zone rules.

Most people understand the RNC is a means to an end, he said.

"The response so far has been one of, I'll say, cautious optimism. Everybody is looking at the map, trying to figure out what the new routes are going to be that week. We haven't had a lot of complaints about it. People understand the temporary inconvenience of traffic, maybe some additional security, is well worth the benefit."

5. The economy has hurt fund-raising.

"You have to raise a lot of money," Jones said. "In a down economy where people are being more cautious with how they spend dollars individually and from the corporate side, you've got to make more asks and you've got to keep after it. So the money piece has been challenging, but we're doing very well there."